Minister for Defence Stephen Smith on HMAS Success Allegations of Unacceptable Behaviour


I thank the Member for his question. HMAS Success is a supply ship used for the supply of fuel, ammunition, food and stores to naval units at sea. In March 2009 Success left Sydney for a deployment to South-East Asia and China, including the Philippines, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Between March and May 2009, incidents of unacceptable behaviour were brought to the attention of Command. Allegations included: inappropriate conduct towards women, including predatory sexual behaviour; workforce bullying and intimidation; tribal culture on board the ship; drunken and disreputable behaviour while ashore; a breakdown in discipline; and serious failures of command.

These incidents were the subject of an internal Defence inquiry; a Senate Estimates examination and a Senate inquiry. In March 2010 the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Houston, commissioned Roger Gyles QC to conduct an independent inquiry into these matters.

Last month I received Mr Gyles’s Report. The Report is not a good read. The Report makes very sorry and confronting reading about the failure of personal conduct, about the failure of discipline, about the failure of authority and about the inappropriate culture aboard the Success. Mr Gyles also concluded that the decision to land senior sailors after allegations were made against them was flawed in various respects and was not the result of proper processes. A second report by Mr Gyles will deal with these general Defence processes.

At the end of my answer I propose to table an edited or redacted version of Mr Gyles’s Report. The redactions are made on legal advice to prevent the identification of individuals who may be the subject of disciplinary or other procedures.

I have provided a copy of the full Report in confidence to Senator Mark Bishop, the Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee; the Deputy Chair of that Committee, Senator Trood; the Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade References Committee, Senator Kroger; and Senator Johnston, the Shadow Minister for Defence. This satisfies the undertakings made by my predecessor, Senator Faulkner, to keep the Senate fully informed of these matters.

In holding a Commission of Inquiry, it was intended to fully expose the facts and matters Defence and Navy were dealing with. In my view, the report clearly does this. The Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of Navy have accepted the findings, recommendations and conclusions of the report in full.

The Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of Navy are taking action on all of Mr Gyles’s recommendations. An action plan has been developed to address the issues identified in the Report and Defence’s response will be based on the key themes of leadership, culture, alcohol misuse and behaviour while ashore. This plan will be implemented alongside the program already being implemented by the Chief of Navy: the New Generation Navy program.

Regrettably, the Report outlines unacceptable behaviour that falls beneath community standards, unacceptable behaviour and conduct that falls beneath the standards of a modern Navy and that falls beneath the standards of the Australian Defence Force. Such behaviour will not be tolerated by the Chief of the Defence Force, will not be tolerated by the Chief of Navy and will certainly not be tolerated by the men and women in the Australian community.

I table a report by Roger Gyles QC, HMAS Success Commission of Inquiry—Allegations of Unacceptable Behaviour and the Management Thereof, Part One: The Asian Deployment and Immediate Aftermath.

Press release
Ministerial Support and Public Affairs,
Department of Defence,
Canberra, Australia

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